By the citified airs of Çalış Beach, where a veritable transplant of British society has cropped up along the Aegean Sea, a bike path meanders down the broad promenade looking out into the wide, hilly bay of Fethiye. It ends just before the road diverges, turning speedy cyclists into footsore walkers as the way ascends to vantage points where the island-dotted, infinite coastal horizon leads to open sea.
As the blue bike path turns to the dark gray concrete of the pedestrian sidewalk, a wide storefront displays high turnstiles chock-full of paperbacks. They are generally commercial, genre bestsellers of yore, their obsolescent lifespans reduced to curiosities, readerships transformed from consumers to researchers. But the romantic tendencies that birthed their stereotypical plots and typecast characters still retain traces of inspiration, however faded.
I came across this particular sahaf, or used bookstore, after a quick search from home, at the other end of the bike path. While more familiar with the plethoras of options by which to explore sahaf shelves in Istanbul, I found one, “Fethiye Sahaf Kitabevi,” apparently a token sahaf in the smallish beach town that offers a quaint, although at times overly touristic urban environment for people dreaming in the turquoise ambiance of the Aegean region.
At nights, the bookseller is a young busybody named Nazlı, who carefully roams the stands and cases, stacks and displays. “Are you looking for something specific?” she asked with a kind eye.
“No, just looking,” I said as the sun went down over the impressive liquid aquamarine landscape beyond. They play a low, local radio station, as most potential patrons scan the immediate sections of books and knickknacks outside the facade along the walkway.
A textual secret
I have a confession to make. I did not bike along the bike path to the sahaf. I was driving an automatic motorbike scooter. These are rentable for a steal around town, and even at a speed of no more than 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph), they offer ample passage in all directions to such locales as Ölüdeniz or farther afield, to Kabak over the expansive Kelebek Valley. Even at the helm of these modest machines, the ambiance of Fethiye is as transporting as it is pacific.
To stop for the time it would take to find a book of interest at Fethiye Sahaf Kitabevi only adds to the peaceable mood. Yet, this particular sahaf is not like those found in Istanbul, for example, where perceptive minds rove with incomparable abandon, out to raise their intellectual capacities in the hard-to-get cultural acquisition of the historic alleyways and avenues in the storied city of 16 million.
Fethiye Sahaf Kitabevi is particularly poor in terms of having organized the English books separately from their Turkish stock, or the random French or German title, or other language titles for that matter. I was as surprised as I was disappointed by the selection of rare, stray volumes for sale on the heavily settled Aegean coastline. Yet, a lightning strike of comic history appeared when the autobiography of Lenny Bruce reared its creased spine.
And not far from it, there was a more or less highbrow study of the art of Marc Chagall by the Italian essayist Lionello Venturi, translated into English and printed with a brilliant series of images representative of the early modern migrant artist’s eternal oeuvre. Beneath the hardcover, an original black watercolor was folded inside. The discovery raised more questions than answers but contributed to the magical atmosphere common to every sahaf.
To sit and read
One of the sweet, endearing qualities of Fethiye Sahaf Kitabevi is a couple of pieces of furniture inscribed with literary gems. Inside the shop, by the bookseller’s desk, over which Nazlı can be found worrying about her upcoming university exams while navigating phone calls and Anglophone passersby, there is a simple table and two chairs. Over the surface, a quote by the classic novelist Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar is sprawled in white, handwritten marker script.
Out back, in the yard of Fethiye Sahaf Kitabevi, shelves of outdoor bookcases packed to the brim lead to a stone bench on which poems are engraved. It stirs the tenor of the place with a creative hum, silent and searching like minds that wish and wonder for stories, thoughts or simply a saying to enlighten their path in the noosphere, a brief stopover, a reprieve from the often overly physical nature of life experience.
While it would appear that Fethiye Sahaf Kitabevi is not entirely concerned with presenting a neat, concerted collection of books in English, their titles in Turkish are admirable, up-to-date and replete with works of unfaltering relevance for young generations of readers. Among them is the Turkish translation of “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of America’s most prominent journalists on black issues and identity politics.
After taking in more pressing worldly concerns, it is always good to let off some steam, and other forms of literature can help. Fethiye Sahaf Kitabevi has a tantalizing trove of illustrated magazines from Turkey’s ventures in print subculture, detailing cartoons and a grittier sense of humor than in mainstream publishing, mostly from the 2000s. Rags like “Lombak,” “Gırgır,” or “L’Manyak” are still edgy, while literary issues of “Sabitfikir” remain evergreen.
Story of the place
Such local businesses as Fethiye Sahaf Kitabevi speak volumes, in this case literally, about the area where it emerged, in relation to the neighborhood, the landscape, its history and communities. Certain finds detail this symbiotic saga between the sahaf as endemic to the social ecology from which it springs and attracts books, readers and stories. No used bookstore is complete without an uncommon array of cookbooks.
With respect to Fethiye, a southern Aegean destination across from the island of Rhodes, its unique culinary palate integrates Turkish and Greek cuisine with unrivaled traditional appreciation. This is what cookbook writer Rena Salaman explored in her catalog of recipes, "The Cooking of Greece and Turkey," in which Turkish dishes like stuffed zucchini, "kabak dolması," are listed alongside the Greek "kolokythakia" zucchini salad.
A deeper look into local interest material on the shelves of Fethiye Sahaf Kitabevi reflects a historical breadth of knowledge and experience that far transcends the comparatively narrow, recent touristic view of the scintillating vistas around the quiet, waterfront bookstore. One study, in Turkish, of the war heroes of Fethiye by local historian Mustafa Uslan chronicles the regional contribution to the country’s fight for independence during World War I.
Most older folks remember decades ago when the span of the breathtaking coast from Fethiye to Ölüdeniz and beyond was a staggeringly empty, serene territory, altogether distinct from its current milieu, in which vacationers and villagers rub shoulders under a sky lined with parachutes, beaches thump with techno music, and the waters are flitted by sails. Still, Fethiye Sahaf Kitabevi blends a touch of history, deliberate wonder and silence.